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Toshiba and BDR Thermea fuel cell partnership: does this mark a final nail in the coffin of Europe’s home-grown fuel cell industry?

Toshiba and ‘BDR’ announce a strategic partnership to bring Japanese residential fuel cell technology (‘micro-CHP’) to Europe. 

Other Japanese and EU fuel cell partnerships JapaneseEU flag

BDR is the third European manufacturer to move away from its own fuel
cell development and gravitate towards Japanese technology. First it was Viessmann with Panasonic, then it was Bosch with Aisin, now it is BDR with Toshiba. 

Panasonic and Viessmann will launch their product in Germany this year. Aisin and Bosch are further behind, but will be taking part in the EU’s ene.field fuel cell demonstration programme and we should see a commercial launch from around 2016. BDR and Toshiba will target commercialisation from 2015 in Germany.  Vaillant continues to work with Germany’s Sunfire (formerly known as Staxera) with a launch expected within the next 2 years.

History repeating itself

The technology battle between Europe and Asia seems to be tipping in Asia’s favour again. Over the last decade, we have seen Asian companies winning the battle for heat pump technology supremacy in many European markets.


Europe had hoped to win the fuel cell micro-CHP battle. With a host of domestic companies developing diverse product in Europe, its prospects looked promising. 


But Japan is way out ahead in the race to volumes.
 Selected European fuel cell developers                     
  • Baxi Innotech 
  • Ceres Power
  • CFCL
  • Dantherm Power   
  • Elcore
  • Hexis
  • Inhouse Engineering 
  • IRD Fuel Cell
  • SOFCPower,
  • Staxera
  • St. Gobain
  • Topsoe Fuel Cell

Japan’s success was not down to luck


Japan’s emergence as fuel cell micro-CHP global leader was not a fluke. It has been achieved through its Government’s backing of its home-grown fuel cell industry to the tune of almost half a billion euros in public capital spending and support through comprehensive R&D and market introduction programmes. This is not to mention the benefit Japanese companies have received from stable long term policy plan and attractive subsidies. 

However, Japan still faces the challenge of achieving its long term cost reduction targets for PEMFC technology. The technical challenge of SOFC technology has also meant that product availability remains limited in Japan but is still attracting significant investment. 

So does this mean a final nail in the coffin for Europe’s home-grown fuel cell industry?

Not necessarily. While many of the European fuel cell developers lack the resources and brand power of the large boiler manufacturer / Japanese partnerships - the smaller, more agile companies could have a crucial edge when it comes to hunger and desire to see fuel cells succeed in the heating market. And with a diverse range of products, technologies, business models, they could find the key to unlocking Europe’s fuel cell micro-CHP market potential.

 Press Release
  • BDR Thermea press release here.
  • Toshiba press release here.
 

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Tuesday, 09 March 2021

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